YFZ Revisited – April 14, 2008 – On The Ranch

My timing is perfect. I spend the weekend at home, soaking up family time. Monday I fly back into San Angelo and just barely pick up my rental car when the phone rings.

“The women have been kicked out of the shelter, separated from their children. Get to the ranch immediately. The FLDS are going to let us in.”

Wow. Can you even imagine the idea of the FLDS holding a press conference, let alone letting us onto their sacred YFZ Ranch? The place where they’ve built their temple? To think that just a few days ago my helicopter ride over the YFZ was the best access I’d ever had.

I get there quick and a huge media convoy is lined up at the gate waiting to get in. We wait, and wait. An FLDS guy at the gate is keeping a list of which networks and newspapers everyone is with. They are keeping us waiting until a crew from a certain Utah news outlet shows up. The sun is getting lower and the national media are getting very cranky, complaining to the FLDS guy at the gate about making us wait.

I find out later that the people we were waiting for were at a grocery store filling prescriptions and buying oranges. I guess they didn’t know that CNN, the networks, and even People Magazine were waiting on them.

There are many photos from this first-ever FLDS media event. (It was the first ever, right?) So I’m just going to go through them in the order they were shot (and there will be more posts to come). Here’s what I saw when we drove onto the ranch and up to the building where everything would happen:

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These women had arrived back home at the YFZ Ranch earlier today after CPS separated them from their children.

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They lined up and watched as the media unloaded their gear and got set up. We were all unsure as to how this would take place. Up until now, the FLDS didn’t talk, so what would happen?

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Rod Parker (above) gave the women some tips, which from memory amounted to telling them to simply tell their stories. Parker advised all of the media to not stand too close and not crowd in on anybody. You know, not swoop in and swarm anyone like a big media pack will often do. We all agreed, but after a few minutes it was just a big mingle and everyone on all sides seemed okay with that.

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I started out photographing this woman as she told her story. Other women (mostly younger) stayed up on the balcony. Maybe they weren’t in any condition to talk about what had happened.

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I focused in on this woman, Sally, who was talking about how the women were separated from their children:

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Tears in her eyes.

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I’ve heard from people that they felt the FLDS didn’t seem to cry enough when talking about their kids being taken, that there were no tears in their eyes.

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I can only point out the situation as I have before: these are mothers who had their children taken away. Thousands of years of human history tell us that whether or not the removal of the children was justified or not, the mothers will be devastated.

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You can argue about the right or wrong of it. My role is to illustrate the story, nothing more.

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YFZ Revisited – April 9, 2008 – Hearing Going Out 2

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This kind of shot is something you pre-plan. You know they’ll be walking down the steps so you try to make it interesting. Also interesting, since this was the first hearing, none of the Texas media knew who this guy was, or that he was an FLDS member.

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He made it past the media pack and only one crew made any attempt to get him to talk. He didn’t. After he passed I went back to the steps for the next guy.

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It’s attorney Gerald Goldstein. No matter how many times he said he would only talk in the courtroom, reporters kept asking questions.

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Look at the mad scramble to get in front of him.

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Next to leave were these three.

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Mystery man in denim, Willie Jessop, and attorney Richard Wright.

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Later that night, over some Olive Garden take-out and a few long distance phone calls, we were able to name the mystery man. And don’t hate on the Olive Garden; It was our third day in San Angelo and we hadn’t yet found the good spots.

YFZ Revisited – April 9, 2008 Hearing Going Out

Here’s how the whole “coming out of court” would go for your typical FLDS witness or big player lawyer…

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At this first hearing we were allowed on the courthouse steps, so that’s the first shot. Most everyone else is waiting at the bottom of the steps, filming you as you walk down.

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Then there’s kind of a mad scramble as the cameras try to stay ahead of you:

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Some cameras leapfrog you.

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If you’re lucky you’ve got a big guy on your legal team who walks in front of you as a human shield.

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About half the cameras stop as you leave the courthouse property for the parking lot.

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But a few cameras stay with you all the way to your car.

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Soon they run back to the steps for the next subject and it starts again. Continue reading

YFZ Revisited – April 9, 2008 – Hearing Going In

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I show up late to the Tom Green County Courthouse and fire off this frame of the scene before running over to join the throng. There’s a hearing today on the legality of the raid. And you know, for the Utah media, this building being named after Tom Green is quite ironic. Tom Green was Utah’s most famous/notorious polygamist earlier in the decade.

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I’m not on this side of the cameras because I want to be on TV. It seems important to show the cameras, the amount of them, etc.

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On a story like this you try to photograph everyone going in, whether you know who they are or not. We knew who Willie was. The guy at center, we’d spend a good part of the day figuring out who he was.

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After the FLDS woman goes in, the waiting game begins. They have to come out eventually, so we sit and wait.

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A microphone stand is set up at the bottom of the courthouse steps and everyone adds their mic to the mix. When everyone leaves this hearing, no one will stop to talk.

YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – FLDS Down Below

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There were a few FLDS members still on the ranch. Like the woman (or man?) in the photo above watching me with binoculars.

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Most were men, but then here’s a woman in a blue dress looking off a balcony.

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Here are four men walking to a building. Notice the numbers painted on the sidewalk. These were markings made by law enforcement to track the various buildings on the ranch.

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I started photographing this group of men…

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…as they walked across the ranch.

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They approached this building and gathered with others.

YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – Law Enforcement on the YFZ

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Law enforcement from local, state, and federal agencies had set up a base at the FLDS temple.

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A guy with a camera was at the top of the temple steps…

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…and you can see the door which was breached.

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I saw these guys from afar, seated against the wall. I thought they may have been detainees but they’re just cops eating dinner.

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Here’s the chow line. And here is something that’s never been reported. I just noticed it while editing through the aerial photographs…

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This guy in the yellow shirt, it looks like his dinner blew away and he had to reach down and grab it. Then, at the end there, he drops something else. Breaking news!

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Here are police at the main entrance to the ranch on county road 300.

YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – Overflight

We had been told that the airspace over the YFZ Ranch was shut down for another week, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to get any aerial shots until then. Since we had no expectation that the FLDS would ever allow us onto their most private of property, shots from the air were the only way we could see the place and try understand the situation. I got a sudden call late on April 8th from another photographer, telling me that there was a guy with a small helicopter giving people flights over the ranch. The airspace had unexpectedly opened. I ran to the car and hurried over to Eldorado before the sun went down.

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The first thing you notice is the massive scale of the YFZ Ranch. The amount of labor it must have taken to build this place…

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Notice that the garden areas are built up on about three feet of topsoil that was trucked in and put down over the natural rocky ground.

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It’s like a small town, with its own maintenance facilities, etc.

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A new guard tower was under construction. Here’s the view of the guard tower looking up the only road in or out.

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YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – Press Conference

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Another day, another press conference. At this point Marleigh Meisner is one of our only sources of information, as the FLDS aren’t talking much.

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The press conferences have been moved into the auditorium of an art museum. Finally enough room for all of the cameras.

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At the end Marleigh gets swarmed by reporters asking further questions. I have audio of all of this, which I need to go back and listen to. In fact, that’s my blurry hand holding what looks like an electric razor. It’s the audio recorder we got, replacing the older model that looked like a stun gun. People are much more receptive to me holding an electric razor up to their face than they were with the stun gun.

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This panorama of the scene was built automatically by PhotoShop, working from several photos. For the record, I had nothing to do with making the guy at center right look like an elf with a big ear. The computer did it.

YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – FLDS Boys

We’re on Fort Concho watch when we spot a group of young FLDS boys walking through the field. We jump out of the car. They are walking right up to the fence as we run over to them. Reporters start yelling questions.

“How are you guys feeling?!”

“What are the conditions like?!”

Then there’s a whistle or a yell from a CPS worker and the boys turn as one and run from the fence.

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They run back over to “their” building.

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And one boy (maybe the oldest?) gets talked to, reminded of the rules which must include “no talking to the media” and “stay away from the fence.”

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An officer comes over and moves us back across the street. I would have photographed him but we’re playing this cat-and-mouse game with the officers. Trying to stay just enough on their good side that they won’t completely screw us. They tell us things like, “You’re not allowed to photograph us,” and we say, “Okay,” knowing full well that we can photograph them if we want (and we do photograph them).

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The boys sit around, then play kickball for a while.

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It’s hot out.

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They’re bored.

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YFZ Revisited – April 8, 2008 – Captivity

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The Fort Concho watch gets really boring. You’re in the heat for hours waiting for something, anything. Even a boring scene (above) of a woman talking to a doctor (or a dentist? or some guy in a white smock) becomes a shot you have to get because you never know if it’s all that will happen that day.

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Then you see what could be good photos, but they are so far away that you can’t do the scene justice (and that CPS worker at the right could be on the phone calling in the calvary to chase you off).

But then a TV cameraman for a Salt Lake City station drives up and gives me a tip. He says that around the corner you can pull into a parking lot and photograph a group of FLDS with their children behind an orange fence. There are about four other photographers with me. We all pile into our cars and drive over fast.

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Here is that scene.

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We all feel we have to photograph this scene, even if it means that our presence causes the FLDS children to lose their play area. We stay at a distance and try to be fast, but it’s obvious we’re here.

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We get our photographs quick and, as a group, decide to leave. None of us want to impose any more than we have to.

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But we don’t leave before photographing a CPS worker imploring the police to get us out of the area.

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Soon CPS will have no such problems with photographers, as they began today to move people to the local coliseum. It’s a much more secure location where we can’t see anything.

I think it was when I shot this photo that a police officer approached us and said a CPS worker was going nuts because she didn’t want us to photograph the feminine medical examination equipment being taken into the building.

YFZ Revisited – April 7, 2008 – The Big Press Conference

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Today’s press conference was the big one. Tons of media crammed into a into little house at Fort Concho. I showed up early and snagged a front row seat. Above, a sound guy at work setting up.

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Marleigh Meisner announced that the number of FLDS children removed from the YFZ Ranch now stood at 401.

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It was a huge increase in the number of children involved and it shocked everyone. I need to listen to the audio of this announcement to be sure, but in my memory there were gasps as she said 401.

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As memory serves, Tela Mange, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety (law enforcement) never was able to say much because the investigation was ongoing. That’s how it works. But even if she couldn’t say a lot, the painting on the wall behind her brought a little Disney into the shot.

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That’s my empty front row seat with the camera on it. To my good friend Mike: I do have a shot where you’re actually working, but it got cut in the edit.

YFZ Revisited – April 7, 2008 – Fort Concho

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Arriving at Fort Concho I photograph Debra Brown, executive director for children at risk, Texas Child Protective Services. She says the agency is going through various books on the FLDS people to gain some understanding of their situation.

I wander back over to the spot where I photographed the women crying yesterday, only to find that police have closed off access to that area. There is now one little spot near a school playground that I can shoot from. I see a large group of FLDS women/girls lined up against a fence waving frantically to people in another building. The shot is very tight, between a building and a tree. It’s barely possible. If I lean one inch either way the view is obscured.

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I photograph for a minute or so…

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…then some of them wave at me, smiling. That’s a little strange.

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Never had that happen before with the FLDS.

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CPS workers are leading women individually to another building, for interviews (I assume).

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It’s strange to see people walk past a graveyard into an interview that could determine whether or not they keep their children.

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Other photographers show up at my spot now, but they’ve missed the big crowd at the fence.

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Now there are less people and they’re no longer waving.

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The moment has passed.

YFZ Revisited – April 6, 2008 – All Alone

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After the woman in the blue dress walked off, there was only one FLDS woman still in view at Fort Concho.

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She broke down in tears.

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She was clearly beyond consolation.

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She seemed to offer up a quick prayer, but I was across the field a long ways off, so it’s just a guess.

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So there is the scene. A lone FLDS woman surrounded by a multitude of police, CPS, and whomever else was on the scene. Let me crop it in tight the way it should be:

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And that was the end of a very long day.

YFZ Revisited – April 6, 2008 – Tears

The events in this post took place in only twenty seconds. Keep that in mind as you read and look.

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From a long ways off, I could see the FLDS in one building waving to those in another. Then an older woman in a blue dress appeared from the left. Young girls from the building on the right ran up to her and I photographed this emotional moment.

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I was too far away to even guess what is going on in the sequence, but as these officers approached the women, it looks like something was said and the girls began to leave. I was too far away to confirm that, but it seems obvious they would have stayed longer than twenty seconds if they could have. The women were encouraged or told to disperse back to their respective buildings.

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Look at the little girl holding onto the woman’s dress:

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Soon just about all have left the older woman.

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Except these two.

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The officers look like they’re taking stock of me and the two other photographers who were in our position. But I don’t remember anyone hassling us (this time). The woman in green with the bottle of Dr. Pepper in the photo below is interesting.

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The older woman then walked away back to her building on the left and this moment was over.

I should say it again: This was twenty seconds.

YFZ Revisited – April 6, 2008 – The Gathering

I was standing near some historic buildings at Fort Concho as the sun as getting low. Tired and frustrated from a day trying cover this historic raid with the authorities doing their best at keeping the story away from the public eye. There were two other photographers with me and we were all about to pack up and quit for the day. There seemed to be nothing to shoot. We were done. And then…

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…this FLDS woman and three boys began walking in the field. They were very far away, but I had a good lens to get close with.

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Soon there was a bigger crowd, and many embraces.

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An officer pulled up, but we could still get a good shot. That said, the angle was tight.

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FLDS at Fort Concho after raid on YFZ Ranch
FLDS at Fort Concho after raid on YFZ Ranch
FLDS at Fort Concho after raid on YFZ Ranch

The people began to wave to other FLDS across the field near another building, like these three:

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